Does "Holy" Mean "Set Apart"?

Post Reply
Singalphile
Posts: 892
Joined: Sun Apr 22, 2012 12:46 pm

Does "Holy" Mean "Set Apart"?

Post by Singalphile » Mon Jul 23, 2018 9:36 pm

It is very often said that the Greek and Hebrew words usually translated as "holy" have the meaning of just "separate" or "other" or "set apart". I was looking up those words, and the theological dictionaries usually do make that claim, but at least one non-theological Greek dictionary (I think) does not.

I have noticed that theological dictionaries are often very, um, theological. So I remain skeptical that the Greek/Hebrew words mean simply "set apart". I think those words certainly can have the meaning of "set apart for religious service or use" ("consecrated" or "sacred"), but that's different.

If hagios means simply "set apart" then why is it never translated that way? Likewise, the Hebrew qadosh (in all its forms) doesn't appear to ever be translated as "set apart" in a general sense. Furthermore, unless I'm mistaken, the Greek/Hebrew words are never used in a secular sense or even in any negative sense. It seems to me like "consecrated" and/or "holy" are the best, correct definitions. When the terms refer to God, it seems to just mean to mean just "holy", i.e, sacred, pure, righteous, without fault.

It doesn't really seem like a bit deal, but I wonder what I am missing. Does anyone have some clarification about that? What is to be gained by saying that the words translated as "holy" actually mean simply "set apart" or "other"?

Thank you!
... that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. John 5:23

User avatar
mattrose
Posts: 1909
Joined: Fri Aug 22, 2008 11:28 am
Contact:

Re: Does "Holy" Mean "Set Apart"?

Post by mattrose » Tue Jul 24, 2018 8:05 am

I have noticed the same thing. Interestingly, I was just reading a book by Scot McKnight and he also made the argument that holy has more to do with devotion than separation.

If 'theology' books are part of the problem here, perhaps 'theology' is also part of the solution. After all, how could 'holy' mean 'set apart' if we believe God was holy before creation (before there was anything to be 'set apart' from)? But if holy means devotion, God could have been devoted to God's self (Father, Son & Spirit) before creation.

Additionally, Jesus (I think we'd all agree) was holy. But this didn't cause Him to remain separate from sinners. Quite the opposite. His holiness caused Him to connect with sinners (though without sin). So I think a better case can be made that holiness is devoted love. Holiness IS perfect love. Perfect love sets itself apart from sin because sin is unloving.

So when talking about holiness, we shouldn't start with the DO's and DON'Ts (the set apart definition). We should start with allowing God's perfect love to fill our hearts. Then, from the inside-out, the DO's and DON'Ts will take shape because some acts are loving and some are unloving.

User avatar
steve
Posts: 3340
Joined: Thu Aug 21, 2008 9:45 pm

Re: Does "Holy" Mean "Set Apart"?

Post by steve » Tue Jul 24, 2018 10:07 am

When I say that the word "holy" means "set apart," I am thinking of the idea of "distinctive," or "distinctively the Lord's." That is, "not like others." Of course, this can translate into behavior, but it has primary reference to distinctive status, which then calls for distinctive behavior.

The word "devoted" actually has the identical meaning, if it is used in an objective, rather than a subjective, sense. If something has been devoted to God, it is now distinctively, set apart for Him. It is of a distinctive status. "Devoted" is then an adjective.

Since the word "holy" is often applied to non-persons (e.g., places, offices, a tent, furniture, lamp oil, etc.), this seems to require, primarily, an objective status. The Jewish high priest was, objectively, "Holiness to the Lord"—that is, distinctly set apart for God's service. This "holy" man was supposed to behave appropriately. Though many of them did not behave rightly, they still wore the label on their forehead.

If we use "devoted" subjectively, it is a verb, rather than an adjective. It is something one does—"I have devoted my children to God," or "I have devoted myself to God." Snuffers and spoons do not subjectively "devote" themselves to temple use, but when someone has devoted these things (objective), the word devoted becomes an adjective, meaning "set apart" for God's service.

User avatar
willowtree
Posts: 100
Joined: Sun Nov 02, 2014 1:56 pm
Location: Sooke BC Canada

Re: Does "Holy" Mean "Set Apart"?

Post by willowtree » Tue Jul 24, 2018 11:00 am

Good question. Having been raised in a holiness church, I was often of the impression that it took two trips to the altar to get the full salvation package. Trip one gave me justification - forgiveness of sins, and trip two (entire) sanctification - cleansing of the 'old man, the carnal nature. Simplistic, perhaps, but a lot of substance here as well.
Then I read in the Bible, "Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts..." 1 Peter 3:15, and this puts a whole different complexion on this. A large component of the holy aspect is our setting things (people,situations, God Himself) apart in our lives for God's divine purpose.
This is not the only verse that calls us to participate in this 'holy' process.
Still trying to work this out.
Graeme
If you find yourself between a rock and a hard place, always head for the rock. Ps 62..

Singalphile
Posts: 892
Joined: Sun Apr 22, 2012 12:46 pm

Re: Does "Holy" Mean "Set Apart"?

Post by Singalphile » Tue Jul 24, 2018 10:32 pm

By the way, I started wondering about this in a Bible study/group, in which we watched an R.C. Sprout series about the holiness of God. You can watch/hear the particular lecture here, actually. He makes the following statements: "The primary meaning of the word 'holy' means 'separate'.", "That which is 'holy' is that which is 'other'.", and "The simplest way to discuss this is that that which is 'holy' is that which is 'different'."
mattrose wrote:After all, how could 'holy' mean 'set apart' if we believe God was holy before creation (before there was anything to be 'set apart' from)?
Yes. Just what I was wondering. What was/is God "separate" or "different" from? In what sense will we be "separate" or "set apart" for all eternity? I actually thought about how they ("they") often say that death means "separation" and now they say that "holy" also refers to being separate or separated. :?
mattrose wrote:If 'theology' books are part of the problem here, perhaps 'theology' is also part of the solution. .... But if holy means devotion, God could have been devoted to God's self (Father, Son & Spirit) before creation.

Additionally, Jesus (I think we'd all agree) was holy. But this didn't cause Him to remain separate from sinners. Quite the opposite. His holiness caused Him to connect with sinners (though without sin). So I think a better case can be made that holiness is devoted love. Holiness IS perfect love. Perfect love sets itself apart from sin because sin is unloving.

So when talking about holiness, we shouldn't start with the DO's and DON'Ts (the set apart definition). We should start with allowing God's perfect love to fill our hearts. Then, from the inside-out, the DO's and DON'Ts will take shape because some acts are loving and some are unloving.
That is well said and I appreciate it, but ... well, yeah, it is a bit too theological for me. It's similar to what R.C. Sproul and others say; it's not that I disagree at all, it's just that I'm not sure that it isn't just made up because it sounds good or it makes for a good sermon or meshes with some other theological system, you know. I hope that doesn't sound mean or belittling! I'm often more analytical than practical.
steve wrote:When I say that the word "holy" means "set apart," I am thinking of the idea of "distinctive," or "distinctively the Lord's." That is, "not like others." Of course, this can translate into behavior, but it has primary reference to distinctive status, which then calls for distinctive behavior.

The word "devoted" actually has the identical meaning, if it is used in an objective, rather than a subjective, sense. If something has been devoted to God, it is now distinctively, set apart for Him. It is of a distinctive status. "Devoted" is then an adjective.

Since the word "holy" is often applied to non-persons (e.g., places, offices, a tent, furniture, lamp oil, etc.), this seems to require, primarily, an objective status. The Jewish high priest was, objectively, "Holiness to the Lord"—that is, distinctly set apart for God's service. This "holy" man was supposed to behave appropriately. Though many of them did not behave rightly, they still wore the label on their forehead.

If we use "devoted" subjectively, it is a verb, rather than an adjective. It is something one does—"I have devoted my children to God," or "I have devoted myself to God." Snuffers and spoons do not subjectively "devote" themselves to temple use, but when someone has devoted these things (objective), the word devoted becomes an adjective, meaning "set apart" for God's service.
That helps me understand your thinking. I would say that, based on the usage and dictionary definitions, "holy" clearly has a meaning of "set apart for the Lord's use (as you say)." But I see no evidence yet that it means simply "set apart" or "different" or "other", as R.C. Sproul states. In other words, a thing that is "set apart" can be good or bad, but the words translated as "holy" in the Bible never, to my knowledge, mean anything but "set apart for God". That is, "holiness" is always a good thing, and so any expanded definition should include that fact (unless I'm mistaken), I think.

Is that a huge distinction? Maybe not, but I'm puzzled about the motivation (if any) behind this simple "other" definition (unless it's actually what the Hebrew and greek words mean, which I'm not seeing).

(There is also the question about what sense God Himself is "holy". Perhaps we fall back to saying that there are two different definitions - 1) "set apart for God's use or service" and 2) "pure and righteous".)
willowtree wrote:Good question. Having been raised in a holiness church, I was often of the impression that it took two trips to the altar to get the full salvation package. Trip one gave me justification - forgiveness of sins, and trip two (entire) sanctification - cleansing of the 'old man, the carnal nature. Simplistic, perhaps, but a lot of substance here as well.
Then I read in the Bible, "Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts..." 1 Peter 3:15, and this puts a whole different complexion on this. A large component of the holy aspect is our setting things (people,situations, God Himself) apart in our lives for God's divine purpose.
This is not the only verse that calls us to participate in this 'holy' process.
Still trying to work this out.
Graeme
Yes. "Setting things (people,situations, God Himself) apart in our lives for God's divine purpose" Interesting 1 Peter 3:15 reference. That's a verb form, I guess - "to make holy" or "to hallow". Same as in the Lord's prayer.

Thanks for the responses all! I was pleased to read them.
... that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. John 5:23

TruthInLove
Posts: 100
Joined: Mon Dec 29, 2014 12:35 am

Re: Does "Holy" Mean "Set Apart"?

Post by TruthInLove » Wed Jul 25, 2018 8:28 am

Hi Singalphile,

I think perhaps the reason some like R.C. Sproul may see the words for holiness as having a "primary" meaning apart from the moral character of God is due to some of the other words that also derive from these words for holiness. The word for 'holy' you put forth was 'qadosh' which appears to be H6918 in Strong's concordance. Also according to Strong's, this word derives from 'qadash' (H6942) which is often also translated as 'holy'. There are several other words that derive from this word that can be translated as 'holy' (H4720, H6922, H6944). The context of many of the passages containing these words clearly associate them as indicating something being 'set apart' in addition to moral purity.

However, other words such as 'qadesh' (H6945), 'qedeshah' (H6948) and 'Qadesh' (H6946) also derive from the root word H6942. Those words seem to mean and have strong biblical associations with ritualistic prostitution and harlotry, and perhaps most signficantly, the harlotry of Israel.

This presents significant justification to suspect that the fundamental concept underlying all of these terms is not necessarily that of moral purity. These concepts would seem to be rooted in something more general, such as, simply being 'set apart' or devoted to some specific purpose - not necessarily reflecting an attribute of God.

Please see the following non-exhaustive list of links to entries in Strong's and Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon and the context of the biblical verses containing these references:

H6945 - qadesh
  • Deuteronomy 23:17; 1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7 - regarding ritualistic prostitution/sodomy in Israel
  • Job 36:14 - unclean
H6948 - qedeshah
  • Genesis 38:21-22 - The account of Judah and Tamar
  • Deuteronomy 23:17 - see H6945 above
  • Hosea 4:14 - topic of Hosea 4 in general is the prostitution of Israel
H6946 - Qadesh
  • Genesis 14:7 - Battles between Chedorlaomer and his allies against Abram, Sodom, Gomorrah, the Amalekites and Amorties (that dwelt in Hazezon-Tamar); the capture and retreival of Abram's nephew Lot; the visitation by Melchizedek
  • Numbers 13:26; 20:14,16,22; 27:14; Deuteronomy 1:46; 32:51; Judges 11:16-17 - Israel did not sanctify God in Meribah-Kadesh
  • Numbers 20:1 - Miriam died here in the midst of Israel's transgression
  • Ezekiel 47:19; 48:28 - during the Babylonian exile, the border of the land surrounding Ezekiel's visionary temple included Tamar and Kadesh
H6943 - Qedesh
  • 2 Kings 15:29 - king of Assyria taking Israel into exile
On a side note, I've placed Tamar in bold above because I think it's interesting that Tamar is mentioned across these contexts and also has connections to both prostitution and 'bitterness' which provide other connections back to Meribah (H4809) Kadesh. I can go into that more if you are interested but it's a bit of a tangent from your original question.

Hopefully this is helpful.

- Carmine

User avatar
Paidion
Posts: 4912
Joined: Mon Aug 18, 2008 10:22 pm
Location: Back Woods of North-Western Ontario

Re: Does "Holy" Mean "Set Apart"?

Post by Paidion » Wed Jul 25, 2018 10:28 pm

I think the lexicons are correct in defining "holy" as "set apart."
Ge 2:3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
In what way was Saturday made holy? Surely it is not morally superior to any other day. Rather God set it apart from the other days because of His intention to instruct His people later not to work on that day.
Ex 19:6 ...and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel."
The Israelites were to be more than just a nation. They were to be set apart from all other nations in order to be servants of God.
Ex 28:4 These are the garments that they shall make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a coat of checker work, a turban, and a sash. They shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons to serve me as priests.
These were not just everyday garments. They were garments set apart for Aaron and his sons in their capacity as priests.
Ex 39:30 They made the plate of the holy crown of pure gold, and wrote on it an inscription, like the engraving of a signet, "Holy to the LORD."
This was a special crown set apart for the LORD.
Nu 6:5 "All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the LORD, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long.
The person who made a Nazarite vow was set apart from ordinary Hebrews—a holy person in some way separated from others, dedicated to the LORD.
1Sa 21:4 And the priest answered David, "I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread... 
Not common bread, but bread that was set apart from common bread.
Mt 4:5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple
Jerusalem was considered by the Jews to be a city set apart from all other cities as the place to worship God.
Ac 13:35 Therefore he says also in another psalm, "’You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’
Jesus was not just a man, but God's holy Son—set apart from all other men, to serve God in a special way by giving His life for the whole world.
Ro 1:2 ... which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy writings...
The Hebrew writings were not ordinary writings, but special writings separate or set apart from all other writings.
Paidion

Man judges a person by his past deeds, and administers penalties for his wrongdoing. God judges a person by his present character, and disciplines him that he may become righteous.

Avatar shows me at 75 years old. I am now 81.

Singalphile
Posts: 892
Joined: Sun Apr 22, 2012 12:46 pm

Re: Does "Holy" Mean "Set Apart"?

Post by Singalphile » Thu Jul 26, 2018 8:52 pm

Good posts, those last two.

Briefly, I agree that "set apart" is part of a definition of holy, but I'm not convinced that it is an adequate definition by itself. TruthInLove's post about similar words is useful. I can't say much without looking into it some more. I'm not sure if those related words are really very relevant. (Hebrew is hard!)

Thanks very much!
... that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. John 5:23

Post Reply

Return to “Miscellaneous”